As the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services data dashboard caught up with COVID-19 testing for the southern Kenai Peninsula, reports confirmed what South Peninsula Hospital testing had already shown: the novel coronavirus has spread widely and intensely in Homer, Anchor Point and other areas of the southern peninsula.
“We’re seeing the virus circulating more in our community than we ever saw,” said Derotha Ferraro, SPH Director of Public Relations and Marketing, on Tuesday. “It’s a real risk. It’s a real visible risk.”
Last Thursday’s report for Aug. 4 showed 100 cases on the southern peninsula, including 82 cases in Homer, 14 in Anchor Point and four in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South. It also reported four nonresident cases tested in Homer. This is the largest single-day report of positive cases in Homer since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
However, that data came with an asterisk, as the DHSS report noted. The high count had been caused by a data processing delay. Patients who tested positive did get timely communication of the results, though.
Of cases on the southern peninsula for the period of Aug. 4 through Aug. 9, there were 15 cases on Aug. 4, 100 on Aug. 5, two on Aug. 6, 39 for Aug. 7-8, and three for Aug. 9, or 159 total for the past week.
For tests done at South Peninsula Hospital for Aug. 4-10, there were 902 test samples collected, with 79 testing positive, a 14% positivity rate, according to an email Wednesday from Ferraro.
The hospital’s emergency department saw 12 visits for COVID-19 symptoms ad the hospital has given 20 outpatient monoclonal antibody infusions.
As of Tuesday, every census region in the state was categorized as high alert status. DHSS now uses a four-tier alert system. According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s COVID-19 dashboard, all three areas of the peninsula were in high alert status, with 331 cases for the central peninsula over the last 14 days, 194 cases for the southern peninsula over the last 14 days and 37 cases for the eastern peninsula over the last 14 days.
Starting this week, South Peninsula Hospital will begin interfacing with the state dashboard on COVID-19 reporting on its website. New information includes the percentage of hospital employees vaccinated, including those who are involved in direct patient care, the number of positive cases and total cases over a seven-day period, and the positivity rate.
“It’s really the number one question: How many cases in Homer?” said Derotha Ferraro, SPH Director of Public Relations and Marketing. “Now that we’re seeing higher volume, I think it’s a valuable piece of information to have on our website.”
The Ninilchik Traditional Council Community Clinic holds a mobile COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinic from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today, Aug. 12, in Anchor Point next to the Cheeky Moose Laundromat on the Sterling Highway.
According to the DHSS weekly report, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of people infected with COVID-19 showed that unvaccinated individuals have more than double the risk of reinfection compared to those who are vaccinated. That means that although infection conveys some immunity, vaccinated people have a lower risk of infection.
The state’s vaccination rate hasn’t budged much in the recent weeks amid the new wave of COVID cases. As of Tuesday, the state reported 52.9% of Alaska residents 12 years and older were fully vaccinated against the virus. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 44.9% were fully vaccinated. At SPH vaccine sites, 86 new vaccines were administed.
On the southern peninsula, the Homer area — including the city of Homer, Diamond Ridge and Fritz Creek — had a fully vaccinated rate of 59% and a one-dose rate of 63.4%. Anchor Point had a fully vaccinated rate of 38.6% and a one-dose rate of 41.20%, while the other peninsula south had a fully vaccinated rate of 20.4% and a one-dose rate of 21.80%.
Vaccinations have increased at the SPH COVID-19 site, with about 100 or more a week now compared to very few in mid-June, Ferraro said.
As of Tuesday, there were 115 COVID hospitalizations statewide, with 10 patients on ventilators. The state test positivity rate over the last seven days is 6.9%.
Ferraro said that because of increased demand for testing, the hospital now asks people to get tested for symptoms or other medica purposes.
“Now because demand is much higher, we’re asking people to test for a true risk, and test for the correct window,” she said.
Vaccinated people should test in the three-to-five day window, and unvaccinated people at six days. Demand has increased dramatically, with sometimes 130 tests or more in one day.
“We would like to save those conversations and those swabs and those parking spots for people who are in immediate need for the tests,” Ferraro said.
SPH also has begun sending tests to Beechwood Diagnostics in Anchorage, with a longer response period. It reserves the faster Cepheid test for in-hospital or emergency department use.
Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.
Testing is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the SPH COVID-19 clinic on Bartlett Street for people with symptoms, traveling, for pre-procedure screening and for exposure six days after exposure of after being at social gatherings.
Where to get vaccinated
South Peninsula Hospital continues to offer walk-in vaccines daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 4201 Bartlett Street, and by appointment at www.sphosp.org. Vaccines also are offered by appointment at Homer Medical Clinic and the SPH Family Care Clinic. For more information at the Bartlett Street clinic, talk to your doctor or call 235-0235 for additional information. To make appointments at Homer Medical Center, call 235-8586. To make appointments at the South Peninsula Family Care Clinic, call 235-0900. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are offered, with Moderna only on Fridays at the Bartlett Street clinic. The clinic currently is out of the ohnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines.
Safeway – Homer, 90 Sterling Highway, offers clinics 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday by appointment or walk-ins. Call 226-1060 for appointments. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are offered.
Kachemak Medical Group, 4129 Bartlett Street, offers vaccines by appointment. Call 235-7000.
Ulmer’s Pharmacy, 3858 Lake Street, offers Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment of walk-ins. Call 235-7760.
Ninilchik Clinic, 15765 Kingsley Road, Ninilchik offers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment and Pfizer on demand. Call 907-567-3970.
SVT Health & Wellness offers Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and Moderna vaccines for established medical patients of the three SVT Health & Wellness locations: 880 East End Road, Homer (226-2228); 72351 Milo Fritz Ave., Anchor Point (226-2238), and 206 Main Street, Seldovia (907-435-3262).
Reach Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.